The Wallabies were left soul-searching after a crushing defeat by the All Blacks in Auckland on Saturday, with coach Dave Rennie concerned about poor decision making as his side went off-script.
The 57-22 scoreline, a record high for New Zealand against Australia, meant the All Blacks retained the Bledisloe Cup for the 19th consecutive year.
At half-time, the Wallabies only trailed by six points and fancied their chances if they could fashion another strong finish as they did in their three recent Tests against France and in last week’s opening Bledisloe Cup Test.
They had more reason to be optimistic one minute into the second half when All Blacks loose forward Ardie Savea was yellow carded.
But instead of ramming home the advantage, their game fell apart.
Rennie and captain Michael Hooper put their hands up to shoulder the blame.
“It was a big part of the game, wasn’t it,” Rennie said as he reflected on what happened when Savea was sent to the sin-bin with the Wallabies down only 21-15 and getting a penalty five metres from the All Blacks line.
They opted for a line-out that was not straight and were penalised after the resulting scrum, allowing the All Blacks to sweep down field and score.
As Savea was about to return to the field, Damian McKenzie banged over a 57-metre penalty and the All Blacks had put on 10 points in the 10 minutes they were down a man.
It opened the floodgates with the All Blacks adding four more tries in a second-half blitz.
“We’ve got to keep building on our attack and then it’s our ability to make smart decisions and play what’s in front of us. That’s an area that we need a lot of development,” Rennie said.
Hooper said that in hindsight, he should have taken a shot at goal when Savea was sent off and then capitalised on the one-man advantage.
“I didn’t and it turns out to hurt us, so you know I take a lot of responsibility for that and for not being able to rally our guys there to get a better outcome in that pretty pivotal 10 minutes,” he said.
The Wallabies’ poor showing eclipsed their previous worst performance against the All Blacks when they lost 54-34 in Sydney four years ago, and Rennie said that ultimately the responsibility rested with the coaches.
“Everything falls back on me. We went in with a plan and we can’t execute that plan. We’ll seriously look at what we’re doing,” he said.
“In the end, the players are implementing what we’re trying to put on the park so clearly we’ll take responsibility for it.”